How can we gain a competitive edge or USP?

We’re a £5m-turnover businesses operating in the mobile connectivity market. Although our technology is differentiated, there are many alternative solutions available in an increasingly populated market. What action can I take to ensure that my business stands apart from its competitors?

A. Alysoun Stewart of Grant Thornton responds:

All businesses search for the elusive USP. The truth is that the most unique thing you can create about your business is likely to be the ability to satisfy your customers more effectively than your competitors.

It’s unlikely that there’s anything different about your product, provided it meets basic expectations.

Business, rather than product innovation, is recognised by the most successful companies as being the key to developing and maintaining competitive advantage. This means that you must have a profound and continuing understanding of your current and potential market and customers. Many businesses lose their edge because they assume that what they do well today will be good enough to deliver success tomorrow.

Look at your market and target customers. Analyse the things that are really important to them. It might be price, speed of response, reliability, after-sales support, fl exibility. Then look honestly at how your business performs against each of those criteria in comparison with your competitors.

From that analysis, formulate a plan to improve every area of your operations to a standard as good as the competition – then go one step further. You’ll be familiar with the concept of delights – things that exceed customer expectations, put you ahead of the fi eld and are absolute order winners.

That is where innovation comes in and it will make your business stand apart. However, remember that today’s delight quickly becomes the level of normal expectation, so be constantly on your toes, progressing your proposition.

There is a long-standing argument as to whether people or processes deliver competitive advantage. Is it the ability to attract, motivate and retain the best people that secures your future, or the ability to develop processes that enable you to do things better in areas that matter to your customer?

The commonsense answer is that you need both. Your people will not achieve the best results without carefully defi ned processes, with clear purpose and relevance. But even with the best operational management, a business would never fly without good people.


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